Under both federal and state law, Dallas employees who are not paid the wages to which they are entitled have the right to seek redress in a court of law. Typically, an aggrieved worker files a complaint in court, after which the defendant employer files an answer. Discovery is then conducted. If the parties cannot agree to an amicable settlement at that point, the case proceeds to trial.
Sometimes, however, a case does not follow the usual procedural course. This happened recently, when – for reasons that were not clear from the court’s order – the defendants in a wage and hour case failed to file an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint against them. The plaintiff then sought a default judgment, an option available to her under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55.
Facts of the Case
In a case that was recently ruled upon by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the plaintiff was a woman who alleged that she worked for some 17 weeks without pay. She filed suit seeking relief under both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Texas Minimum Wage Act (TMWA). Her complaint further alleged that she had worked beyond 40 hours per week but had not received overtime pay or even the mandated minimum wage.
The defendants (a limited liability company doing business as a bar and grill establishment and an individual who allegedly recruited the plaintiff for employment) did not respond to the plaintiff’s complaint. In a previous order, the district court entered a default judgment against the defendants on the issue of liability. The plaintiff was required to submit additional briefing in support of her claim for damages.
Opinion and Order of the District Court
After finding that both jurisdiction and venue were proper and that the defendants had been served with the complaint and the motion for default judgment, the district court concluded that defendants had violated the FLSA such that the plaintiff was entitled to recover wage damages of $23,773.42, liquidated damages of $23,773.42, attorney’s fees of $14,673.00 and court costs of $533.30.
Although the entry of a default judgment is generally disfavored in legal proceedings, the court noted that entry of such was not an abuse of discretion when a properly served defendant fails to answer a complaint. Here, over four months had passed since the plaintiff had filed her complaint, and the defendants had filed nothing in response. When damages can be determined “on the papers,” a hearing is not necessary.
Contact an Established Dallas Employment Litigation Firm
One can only speculate as to why the defendants in the above referenced wage and hour dispute failed to appear to answer the allegations against them. By not retaining counsel, they effectively admitted to everything the plaintiff said about them in her complaint. While it may be possible to get the default judgment set aside at some point in the future, this will likely be much more difficult than simply answering the complaint to begin with. If your business has been accused of a wage-and-hour violation, Key Harrington Barnes in Dallas can help. For an appointment, call us at 214-615-7925.
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